Category Archives: Friendship Park

Brewed Awakening: Serving fair trade coffee, tea and speakers to stir the social conscience

Check out this Wednesday night speaker series sponsored by my friend and colleague Jamie Gates, at Point Loma Nazarene University. Critical analysis of social issues and smart conversation from a faith perspective.

Sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation, the Brewed Awakening series gives a platform to speakers who bring critical analysis of pressing contemporary social issues while pointing to ways of engaging these issues with hopeful alternatives.  The Brewed Awakening series showcases individuals and organizations with keen insight as well as practical ways of getting people involved.  Special attention is given to Christians who are engaged in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.  All speakers are encouraged to reflect on the relationship between their passion for justice, their actions and their faith.


Wednesday, February 9
Colt Forum, Point Loma Nazarene University
7pm (6:30 coffee)
Friendship at the Border: Developing a cross-border peace park in San Diego/Tijuana
Friends of Friendship Park, www.friendshippark.org
Located where the US-Mexico border meets the Pacific Ocean, Friendship Park is a unique venue of great historical significance. It has served as the centerpiece of California’s Border Field State Park since its inauguration by then-First Lady Pat Nixon in 1971. PLNU has co-sponsored the annual advent celebration La Posada sin Fronteras at the park for the past 8 years.  Recent changes to the border fence have marred Friendship Park and destroyed the space as a place where families divided by nations can freely gather.  Friends of Friendship Park is calling for a restoration of Friendship Park both for the sake of cross-border friends and families and as a symbol of hope for more peaceful times.


Tuesday, March 15
Colt Forum, Point Loma Nazarene University
7pm (6:30 coffee)
Modern Abolitionists: Border interceptions in the 21st century slave trade
Jenna Hudlow, Tiny Hands International, http://www.tinyhandsinternational.org/

Tiny Hands is a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the church in the developing world to help the poor overcome poverty and become lights of the world.  We are committed to finding the greatest injustices in the world, and working towards relieving them however possible.  We are particularly called to orphans, street children, and the victims of the sex-trafficking industry. We want to find those who are already doing the work, who are called and faithful, and help them do it in greater ways and with more efficiency. We do it all in obedience to, and for the glory of Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, April 12
Colt Forum, Point Loma Nazarene University
7pm (6:30 coffee)
Sabbath-Jubilee Economics: Putting radical Biblical economics into practice
Ched Myers, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, http://bcm-net.org/

In the story of the poor man Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Mark’s gospel gives us an archetypal portrait of the journey from “blindness” to faith (relief sculpture left by Charles McCollough). We believe that Christians should stand for compassion and equity, and against all forms of oppression and violence in these difficult times. To do this we must face our personal and political blindness to the realities of human suffering, as well as to God’s horizons of justice. Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries is a group of believers committed to revisioning the relationship between the Word and our world, in order to help animate and build capacity for communities of discipleship and justice.


For more information, contact Dr. Jamie Gates, 619.849.2659 or cjr@pointloma.edu .

Learn more about the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at www.pointloma.edu/cjr

For directions to the university, call 619.849.2200 or go to http://www.pointloma.edu/Directions

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Friends of Friendship Park to Unveil Alternative Design to Assure Dignified and Humane Public Access to Border Park

Coalition Deems Border Patrol Plans Inadequate and Inhumane

WHEN: Wednesday, February 9, 5:30 p.m.
WHAT: Press Conference Unveiling of Proposed Design for Friendship Park
WHERE: Marina Vista Community Center, 1075 8th St., Imperial Beach CA
(MAP: http://mapq.st/hrUxOI)

The Friends of Friendship Park Coalition will unveil their alternative architectural design for San Diego’s historic border park in a press conference at the beginning of a public outreach Open House scheduled by San Diego Border Patrol on Wednesday evening, February 9.

Working collaboratively with the Friends of Friendship Park, celebrated San Diego architect James Brown, principal at Public Art & Architecture (http://www.publicdigital.com), has developed a proposal for Friendship Park that would celebrate bi-national friendship as a necessary part of true security.

“Jim Brown’s design for Friendship Park aptly captures the essence of bi-national friendship, while addressing every legitimate security concern that San Diego Border Patrol officials have shared with us across months of consultations,” stated John Fanestil, Executive Director at the San Diego-based Foundation for Change and a leader in the coalition.

At present Friendship Park features security infrastructure and arbitrary enforcement practices resulting in public confusion about whether and how the public can visit the park. A limited public access area created by San Diego Border Patrol has offered park visitors an experience that many liken to visiting someone in jail.

Formerly, families from San Diego, Riverside and Los Angeles would come to the park to visit with family members who had often traveled for days from the interior of Mexico for a family reunion. The present arrangement prevents families like these – and other visitors to the park – from comfortably talking with each other. Family members, who sometimes have not seen each other in years, are routinely turned away after a 30-minute visit.

San Diego Border Patrol will have on display at the Open House proposed modifications to the park which do nothing to address these problems. In addition, Border Patrol plans would place the Boundary Monument – an historic marker recognizing the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo at the end of the U.S.-Mexico War – on the south side of the border fence, leaving it inaccessible to the U.S. public.

“Proposals coming from San Diego Border Patrol continue to violate the spirit of Friendship Park,” stated Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee and a leader in the coalition. “By ensuring that visitors can see each other, touch each other and converse freely in a dignified and orderly manner, our coalition’s proposal honors the original purpose of this historic border park.”


Click here for a slideshow of Friendship Park

Click here to REVIEW and ENDORSE OUR DESIGN

Contact:
John Fanestil, john@foundation4change.org, 619-823-6223
Jill Holslin, jholslin01@gmail.com, (619) 804-8030
Jim Brown, jb@publicdigital.com, (619) 682-4083

The Friends of Friendship Park is a coalition of leaders and organizations promoting orderly and dignified public access to Friendship Park, San Diego’s historic park on the US-Mexico border.

http://www.friendshippark.org
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New video on borders & migration: “We Are One”

In July 2009, I met a group of French filmmakers from Marseilles at a border wall event at the Centro Cultural de la Raza.  The filmmakers–Romain de l’Ecotais, Maxime Rostan and Guillaume Vidal–had been traveling for weeks through Latin America & Mexico, documenting border walls and migrations in the Americas.  In San Diego, they traversed the border with Enrique Morones of Border Angels, and visited the cemetery for migrants in Holtville and later took a tour down to Friendship Park.

Today they sent me a link to their video, titled We Are One, a King Size Trip Production, with music by Watcha Clan.


Designing dignity

December 16, 2010 Originally published in San Diego City Beat

The second in our series on border art looks at the architect behind the proposed design of Friendship Park

by Kinsee Morlan


When James Brown was in his 20s, he walked, on a whim, from his house in San Diego to Tecate, Mexico. Including a quick stop in La Mesa to bowl, the trek took 48 hours.
Brown’s drawn to Mexico, but that isn’t really why he got involved in the redesign of Friendship Park, the plaza inside Border Field State Park in San Ysidro, where the United States ends and Mexico begins. His interest in the highly politicized plot of land began in 2008 in Cambridge, Mass., when he was awarded the Loeb Fellowship and spent a year of independent study at Harvard. Those 12 months were the first time in a long time that Brown, who runs Public Architecture with his partner James Gates, had time to take a step back.

“The program really challenged me to think,” the soft-spoken Brown says. “I didn’t feel like I’d done much to help my city, as a leader, especially. I’ve done some great buildings, some great art and furniture…. But I wanted to try.”

As recently as 2008, Friendship Park was a place where people in Mexico could meet with family in the U.S. It was an opportunity for those separated by immigration status to talk in person and even touch. But photos of fathers linking hands with their children through the fence, or couples picnicking on the beach separated only by a few rusty poles are the only remnants of the park’s former state.

“This is degrading somehow—it’s dehumanizing,” Peter Zamora says, standing on the Tijuana side of Friendship Park a few weeks ago. For years, Zamora lived in San Diego and used the park to meet his wife and kids. He was recently deported, but he and his family frequently come back to visit the place where they spent so much invaluable time. He’s watched the park change dramatically in the last few years. “You know the dog pound?” Zamora asked. “That’s what it feels like now. I’m about to start barking.”

In late 2008, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to build a double border fence and increase security. In early 2009, the department surprised everyone when it said that construction plans included the full closure of Friendship Park. By February of 2009, Border Patrol agents started denying access to the plaza. Border activists protested and worked hard that year to get access to the park. By November of 2009, they regained limited entry. The Army Corps of Engineers added a gate to the new fence, which can be opened only during certain hours on certain days. Visitors are allowed to walk through what’s been described as a “cattle run” to get to yet another short fence, which keeps people roughly five feet away from the original border fence. Visitors are only allowed to stay 30 minutes and can no longer touch friends and family on the other side.

“The mistruth that several Border Patrol officials have stated regarding the opening is, ‘Well, everybody got 99 percent of what they wanted,’ which is completely and utterly false,” says John Fanestil, executive director of Foundation for Change and a member of Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition formed in 2008 to push for more access to the park. Brown’s proposal, Fanestil adds, “doesn’t even get us 99 percent of what we want, but it gets us a long way. He’s done a masterful job of accommodating some of the concerns [of the Border Patrol], but it would be equally false for me to say his design meets all of their concerns.”

That’s Brown’s biggest challenge—designing a park that includes both the dignity and freedom desired by border activists and the control demanded by the U.S. government.

Back at Harvard, Brown used his time to conceptualize a binational park that would include huge swaths of land in both the United States and Mexico. “I didn’t know anything about the Friends of Friendship Park at this time,” he says. “So, I was just working on my own thing…. I was very much in a vacuum.”

Brown walks through his office in University Heights, where he’s laid out drawings and models he built during his fellowship.

“My idea would be to have the trolley snake out there,” he says, pointing at a drawing hanging on the wall. “And there would be a pedestrian and bicycle crossing—no cars.”

The Friends of Friendship Park came across Brown’s work on the binational park at Mix: Nine San Diego Architects and Designers, an exhibition on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego last year.

Brown met with the group and volunteered to come up with a more realistic design to allow greater access to the park. The resulting design isn’t as idealistic as his original plans for a binational park, but it’s a start. The proposal includes a 60-foot rolling gate that can be opened all the way or closed depending on the Border Patrol’s comfort level. Many of the gates currently inside the park would be replaced with knee-high looping chains, and paths would lead down to the beach and to private meeting areas where families could sit and talk. A grove of native trees would stretch across the border.

“We’re proposing three main points,” Brown explains. “We want access to the monument. We want access to the binational garden and we want to get access to the beach.

“This is the feeling it would give,” Brown continues, unrolling a printout of the design. “Instead of that closed-off feeling, it would have some semblance to a regular park.”

A few months ago, without any warning, a high-tech security tower was built on the U.S. side, just outside Friendship Park. The tower adds to the overall ominous and militarized atmosphere. The gesture is symbolic, Brown says, of the attitudes of the Department of Homeland Security.

“It seems impenetrable to me at times,” he says. “We’ve been meeting with the Border Patrol forever; you’d think they would have told us about the tower.”

Border Patrol spokesperson Steven Pitts says Brown’s design is currently with the Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s being looked at seriously,” Pitts says.

But Brown and the Friends of Friendship Park know it’s going to take a big push to move the plans forward.

“We’ve been waiting for the right time,” Fanestil says, “but soon we will mobilize again in support of the plan that Jim Brown is developing, and we’ll continue to advocate for greater and greater access.”

Brown has faith. The group of activists behind his design has already seen success in gaining limited access to the park, and he thinks that with their support, his work will see the light of day. The moment they get the green light from the U.S. government, Brown says, the next hurdle—finding the money— won’t be a problem.

“The funding will come,” Brown says. “If we could possibly get to the point where the Border Patrol would say, ‘Well, yes, we don’t have a problem with this, but where are we going to get the money?’ that would be a huge victory. We would find a way to do it if we could get to that critical stage.”

Photo Credits: Kinsee Morlan

Got comments or questions? Email kinseem@sdcitybeat.com

Realizan sin éxito Posada Sin Fronteras por doble muro fronterizo

Lunes, Diciembre 13 2010 07:19:26

Originally published in Diario San Diego

Religiosos y activistas de derechos humanos de California no lograron concretar la noche del sábado la Posada Sin Fronteras que pedían desde Tijuana grupos de migrantes deportados y feligreses, por la presencia de la Patrulla Fronteriza.

Al menos 100 personas del lado mexicano cantaron, ofrecieron testimonios y compartieron alimentos, pero no pudieron intercambiar con otro grupo, a unos metros de la Playa en el Pacífico en Imperial Beach, parque donde se reunían en años anteriores, porque ahora es un tramo con doble barda y vigilancia.

“Solamente 25 personas, formadas, por favor, y con documentos oficiales estadunidenses (…). Los que no tengan, por favor salgan de la fila”, dijo en español un patrullero fronterizo mientras era escoltado por otros dos.

Con libros de villancicos los religiosos pasaron por una puerta en el segundo muro, para acercarse al primero. Encerrados entre ambos muros, los feligreses del lado de California entonaban los cánticos.

El director nacional del comité de servicios amigos de las Américas, Christian Ramírez, dijo que “en la práctica, le cambiaron el nombre a este parque”.

La Posada sin Fronteras se estableció en el Parque de la Amistad, donde convergen California, México y el Pacífico, que por décadas fue símbolo de amistad y acercamiento, pero que desde hace cuatro años que transformada en un corredor bardeado.

El parque era famoso porque a través de la malla de alambre las familias mostraban a sus nuevos bebés, o la nueva novia, o a la pareja con que alguien se había casado en Sacramento o Fresno; o a los familiares que no podían cruzar a Estados Unidos.

Pero los congresistas James Sensenbrenner y Duncan Hunter y declararon bajo la administración del presidente George W. Bush que por el vecindario de clase media y alta de Playas de Tijuana cruzarían terroristas, por lo que el parque necesitaba bardeados, enrejados y más vigilancia.

“Las bardas y las políticas racistas no nos van a separar”, dijo Christian Ramírez, en alusión a la celebración de las Posadas Sin Fronteras, que desde hace 17 años se celebran en ambos lados del muro.

El obispo de Tijuana, Oscar Romo Muñoz, dijo a través de la malla de metal que “es una pena porque no nos deja acercarnos, pero confío en que Dios hace su obra y convierte todo lo malo en bueno”.

Border Crossing: Communion at Friendship Park

October 7, 2008

by John Fanestil

Originally published in The Christian Century

NOTE: This article was recognized by the Associated Church Press with its 2008 Award of Merit, the citation reading: “In this well-written article, the author uses the lens of his experience to focus on the larger issue of U.S.-Mexico border policy. A compelling and challenging look at a highly charged issue.”

Border Crossing: Communion at Friendship Park

Among the least recognized yet most lasting legacies of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” has been a dramatic transformation of the U.S.-Mexico border. This transformation is about to reach its symbolic and geographic culmination at Friendship Park, a plaza atop a seaside bluff south of San Diego.

For generations residents of San Diego and Tijuana have gathered at Friendship Park to visit with family and friends through the border fence. In coming months the Department of Homeland Security will erect a secondary fence across the park, eliminating public access to this historic meeting place. Until then, I will serve Communion at Friendship Park each Sunday afternoon, distributing the elements through the border fence.

Moves toward destroying Friendship Park began in the aftermath of 9/11, when Republicans in Congress, many of whom had long championed cracking down on illegal immigration, decided that control of the southwest border was a matter of national security. Never mind that the men who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did not enter the U.S. from Mexico. Never mind that no known terrorist ever has. The psychic needs of an aggrieved nation matched nicely with the desire to limit Mexican migration to the U.S.—a desire shared to varying degrees by many Americans for many different reasons. Post-9/11, the idea that the nation’s security depends on “securing the border” became axiomatic for politicians of all ideological persuasions.

The Bush administration institutionalized the axiom in 2003, when the newly created Department of Homeland Security took operational control of the Border Patrol and other immigration-related agencies. The result was more than mere bureaucratic reshuffling: with all matters pertaining to life on the border now cast in the light of national security, the strategies of heightened vigilance, beefed-up enforcement and increased militarization came to trump all others in U.S. border policy. What was once the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was reorganized as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The sound of the acronyms reflected a deep shift in organizational culture. As a friend of mine once put it: “We used to offer services for immigration and naturalization; now we give a cold shoulder.”

This recasting of the border as a battleground in the war on terror has dramatically altered the physical and social landscape. By the end of the Bush administration, over one third of the 2,000 miles of border with Mexico will be covered by double or triple layers of fence. Vehicle and pedestrian waits at border-crossings have doubled and tripled too. Border Patrol staffing in the region has increased more than 50 percent since 2004, a figure which does not include periodic reinforcements from the National Guard and other branches of the armed services.

Rates of Mexican migration have not significantly diminished, but the pattern of this migration has been profoundly altered. The cost of entering the U.S. illegally—as measured by the price of a “coyote” on the streets of Tijuana—has increased tenfold in the past eight years, a fact that entails a host of unintended consequences. Because there is now real money to be made in immigrant-smuggling, the enterprise is more and more dominated by the forces of organized crime, which also traffic in illegal drugs.

With illegal entry so much more costly and difficult, Mexicans committed to bettering their families’ circumstances have been creative—in some cases desperate—in seeking alternative ways of entry. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. did not cross the border illegally; rather, they crossed the border legally on student or tourist visas and then stayed illegally. Immigration officials refer to these people as “visa overstayers.” The black market in falsified documents has exploded, as have cases of Border Patrol corruption. Poor Mexicans unable to afford these more sophisticated means of entering the U.S. have assumed greater and greater risks by attempting to cross on foot through the borderlands’ remote mountains and deserts, and thousands have died trying.

Because the cost of reentering the U.S. is now so high, more Mexican immigrants than ever are making commitments to stay long-term in the U.S., commitments which often include arrangements for family members to come and join them. This is the most ironic consequence of increased border enforcement: what for generations was a pattern of two-way migration (from Mexico to the U.S. and back again) has been turned into a one-way street.

The transformation of the border from a filter through which people flowed slowly, steadily and freely in both directions to a less permeable barrier characterized by long waits for regulated crossings has imposed a deep toll on people who live in the region. People unfamiliar with fronterizo culture may have a hard time understanding it, but millions of border residents think of themselves and their families as living on both sides of the line. Of the region’s 13 million people, over 9.5 million are of Mexican ancestry, 6 million of these living on the Mexican side and 3.5 million living in the U.S. (Outside of San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, the region’s population is over 90 percent Mexican or Mexican-American.) Most border residents have kinship ties that span the international boundary, which means that U.S. policy is drawing a sharp line of division across millions of family trees.

Champions of “gaining control of the border” achieved a significant breakthrough in 2005 when Congress attached a rider to the Real ID Act granting to Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff the authority to waive any and all laws as he deemed necessary to expedite construction of supplemental fencing along the border. While many consider the Real ID Act an abdication of Congress’s constitutional responsibility to exercise oversight of the executive branch, it has withstood legal challenges in the courts and retains the force of law.

On April 1 Chertoff exercised the authority granted to him by Congress and waived over 35 federal, state and local laws and regulations. In announcing the waivers, Chertoff made clear that he believes the executive branch has carte blanche to do whatever it pleases to complete construction of the fence. “I reserve the authority,” Chertoff wrote, “to make further waivers from time to time as I may determine to be necessary.”

In San Diego, the pace of construction has accelerated dramatically in the wake of the April 1 waivers. The urban corridor connecting San Diego and Tijuana had already been double-fenced, and DHS is now pursuing the construction of triple-fencing along the western-most 3.5 miles of the border, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

To meet the stated goal of completing the project by year-end, DHS has condemned over 150 acres of land (without adequate compensation of county and state governments). A $48 million “design-build” contract has been awarded to the Kiewit Corporation, which will design the project and build it on a timetable allowing no room for public review of any kind. Cutting into the mesa tops and filling the canyons as they work their way to the coast, Kiewit will be relocating some 3 to 4 million cubic yards of earth, transforming what are now alternating canyons and mesa tops into rolling hills.

After reinforcing the existing border fence, Kiewit contractors will erect a second fence that is 20 feet high, made of concrete pylons with steel mesh angled at the top. Between these two barriers they will lay a patrol road made of decomposed granite, allowing for rapid movement of Border Patrol vehicles along the border. A third barrier—this one a chain-link fence—will be built north of the secondary fence, with a maintenance road in between. The final price tag on the project is expected to exceed $70 million, making it one of the largest public works projects in recent San Diego County history.

The project has been condemned roundly by human rights, interfaith and environmental organizations. Even mainstream groups like the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society have registered formal complaints, the Sierra Club joining a recent lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the DHS waiver authority. In May the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the case.

For some of us in San Diego, the destruction of Friendship Park is a desecration. The park was constructed with the aim of promoting friendly relations between the peoples of the two nations. In its earliest days, the international boundary inside the park sported no fence at all but was marked by a single, low-hanging chain, allowing people to move freely from one side to the other. When the first fence at the park was erected in the 1970s it was made of chain link with the intent of preserving clear views of the other side and of promoting transnational gatherings.

I have been visiting the park for years, often to participate in an annual Christimas event called La Posada Sin Fronteras. La Posada is an ancient Mexican ritual in which participants reenact the search of Mary and Joseph for a dwelling place (posada, in Spanish) on the night of Jesus’ birth. Each December, a large interfaith crowd assembles at Friendship Park. People on the Mexican side sing a traditional song, “Pidiendo Posada,” asking for a place to stay. People on the U.S. side play the role of the innkeeper, declaring that “there is no room in the inn.”

Last December I was honored to preside at La Posada Sin Fronteras, and since then I have taken to visiting the park more frequently, sometimes weekly. Along the way I have gotten to know people who have been visiting the park for decades, and a not insignificant number who consider the border fence their spiritual home.

I have witnessed people kiss through the fence, cry together through the fence, buy and sell tamales through the fence and say goodbye to dying loved ones through the fence. I know one young man, a U.S. citizen, who visits the fence regularly to see his Mexican novia, the mother of his two small children. A recovering drug addict, he can’t convince his girlfriend to marry him, and he says he doesn’t blame her because of the way he’s treated her in the past. He can’t believe that public access to Friendship Park will soon be eliminated. It is the only place he gets to see his children. The last time I saw him, I gave him my phone number and told him that if he and his novia decide to get married at Friendship Park, he should give me a call.

The tradition of serving Communion at Friendship Park began with a vigil on June 1. For this event we planned to share a “love feast,” rather than enter into the complicated liturgical issues of how to share Communion with the spectacularly ecumenical crowd that turns out for our border gatherings. As we made our preparations, we were told by Border Patrol agents—for the first time ever in our years of gathering at this location—that we were not to pass anything through the fence. Doing so, we were told, would constitute a “customs violation.” On that day we decided to adhere to this new restriction, and in an act of lament, those of us in the United States ate our bread in silence, as we looked through the fence at our friends and compadres in Mexico, who went without.

Two months later, on August 3, we gathered again, and this time I couldn’t bring myself to tolerate what seems to me a farcical prohibition. “What have we come to as a nation,” I asked the crowd assembled, “when the simplest and most common act of human solidarity and fellowship is named an illegal act?”

This time I was determined to celebrate the sacrament. I consecrated the bread and juice and passed them through the fence to a Methodist colleague from a church in Tijuana. People formed into two lines, one in each country, and came forward solemnly to receive Communion. People were given the choice of receiving the elements from either celebrant, the people on the U.S. side having been forewarned that the act of taking a small piece of bread through the fence might be considered by some an act of civil disobedience.

I have never taken so much pleasure in not serving Communion. One by one, my friends on the U.S. side shook their heads at me as they approached the serving station and reached out their hands to receive the body of Christ through the fence. I sat silently with tortilla in hand, as my colleague from Tijuana, separated from me by 18 inches and an international boundary, served the entire congregation.

I am committed to serving Communion at Friendship Park each Sunday afternoon until border authorities prevent me from doing so. For at least a few more weeks, Friendship Park will remain a most humanizing place along an increasingly dehumanized border.

CONTAINMENT SOCIETY: REPRODUCING DETENTION AT FRIENDSHIP PARK

March 22, 2010

by Pedro Rios

Originally published on Detention Watch Network

Detention Watch Network chose the image of San Diego’s Friendship Park to represent our “Dignity not Detention” campaign (see on left). To explain its significance, we asked Pedro Rios of American Friends Service Committee in San Diego to write about his experience with Friendship Park and recent changes that have affected it.

Containment Society: Reproducing Detention at Friendship Park

It was a somber 16th Annual Posada Sin Fronteras (Posada Without Borders) last December, held at Friendship Park. There was an impressionable eeriness about the altered landscape; a feeling of loss prevailed. La Posada, where every year a couple of hundred people gather to remember the migrant lives lost in their attempts to cross into the United States, this time, for the first time, the event took place inside the strip of land contained within the primary and secondary fencing infrastructure that now outlines significant portions of the US-Mexico border. Those 25 people permitted entry into this “security zone” were further enclosed inside a 5-foot tall pedestrian barrier set to confine the access area around Monument Mesa. Human touch was no longer permitted between people on either side of the border wall. Of this scenario, my 7 year-old son commented, “It looks like we are going into a jail.”

Adding insult to injury, as we shared migrant testimonies, sang traditional posada songs, and even when our emotions overwhelmed some of us, standing behind us armed Border Patrol agents intruded by snapping pictures, some only 6 feet away, as if to remind us of the control and of the loss – they captured this in pictures and with video as if the enclosed steel pen surrounding our group didn’t already sufficiently attempt to degrade our humanity.

We all know about the crisis in immigration detention in the United States – the systemic violations – even the government acknowledges its detention centers are plagued by substandard conditions. Those secret detention facilities and news stories about unnecessary deaths point to the disarray that has become the norm for how human beings are locked up. It is completely intolerable that this occurs as corporations profit from it, but it also has been taking place in the public domain, and elements of detention and its horrors get reproduced in how public space is defined. Friendship Park is a clear example of that.

In 1849, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the historic Monument Mesa became the site for demarcating the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. This was recognized with a monument in the 1880s, at the same point where in 1971 Pat Nixon commemorated the celebrated site as Friendship Park remarking, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too long.”

For decades and until recently, bi-national events held at Friendship Park have included yoga and salsa classes, the cultivation of a bi-national garden, beach clean-ups, communions, Day of the Dead ceremonies, and the annual La Posada Sin Fronteras. Perhaps the most significant events but less profiled, were the personal family reunions that used to take place on any given day – a grandfather caressing the cheek of his 3 month old grandson for the first time, or a husband meeting his wife and children, interlocking fingers in spite of the metal mesh between their palms. Under the new “Rules for Entry” these timeless moments are forbidden.

The new “Rules for Entry” were established without proper consultation with community organizations, much less with the acknowledgement of the general public. Borrowed from military-speak, the central gauge for the Border Patrol is “operational control.” So long as the Border Patrol aspires towards this militaristic concept in gauging their threat assessment of the area, public space, in this case, Friendship Park, is subject to stringent containment and overzealous social control.

For years the challenge to fend off the border wall at Friendship Park brought together advocates from different experiences and vantage points – environmentalists, human rights advocates, grass roots organizations, and private citizens – all with the intention of preserving the dignity of Friendship Park and its unique surrounding landscape. The efforts to restore public access continue, despite the new physical infrastructure that restrains expression of true friendship and solidarity with our neighbors to the south.

At La Posada, when our friends in Tijuana threw candy bags over the primary fence, a customary symbolic act representing gift-sharing like in the breaking of a Mexican piñata, Border Patrol agents were quick to confiscate the candy, claiming it was contraband. The event ended and Border Patrol agents were quick to scurry us out of the containment area, closing the gate of the secondary fence behind us. The orange glow of the luminarias that were lit with the names of migrants who have died splashed against the metal bars that make up the secondary fence. This reminded me that in our struggle for a restoration of justice in how human beings are detained in immigration facilities, confinement gets reproduced in social spaces, Friendship Park being one of them.